The Pennsylvania House of Representatives is expected to take a historic step Thursday by taking a vote on whether to privatize the state-run liquor stores.
But, the debate continued Wednesday as to who’s on the right side of history.
At one point, more than 100 amendments to the bill were due to come up, potentially leading to a long night at the Capitol. But, as the day went on that number dwindled until a Democratic proposal to gut the bill was shot down. Debate ended before 5 p.m., with the expectation the House will vote Thursday some time after 3 p.m.
It’s the first time a proposal to sell of the state’s liquor stores has gone this far.
“This is a huge step. This is something people have wanted. We’ve debated this issue time and time again over the years. Many governors have tried. I think that the governor starting this process, putting the first step forward. The changes that will evolve I think will come out to a fair plan,” said Rep. Sheryl Delozier (R-88th).
Democratic leaders say their entire caucus plans to vote no, meaning Republicans will have to come up with all 102 votes needed to pass the bill.
Lawmakers debated Wednesday, approving a few amendments that were technical in nature and dealt with language in the bill.
Since Gov. Tom Corbett (R) pitched his privatization plan, there have been some substantive changes to the bill.
As it stands now, existing beer distributors would get the first shot at buying licenses to sell beer and wine. Also, the bill no longer directs $1 billion from the sale of licenses to education.
Supporters of privatization say the intent is still there to funnel money to schools, but no dollar amount is guaranteed.
Rep. Patty Kim (D-103rd) said she could not support the bill for several reasons, including impacts on current employees and the handling of money for education.
“I think realistically, it could be anywhere from $250 million up to $1 billion. And, I think that’s incredibly unfair to tie privatization to public education,” said Kim. “I have people in distress because they can’t find jobs. And, to lay off maybe 4,500 more, it’s just going to devastate my district. And, we can’t get back from this economy. It’ll just take a longer time to recover.”
Meanwhile, several employees of the state-run stores were at the Capitol to watch the debate.
Despite calls for the number of liquor stores to double and assurances the state will work with employees to find work, many of them are upset and frustrated with the plan.
“I have a six-year-old. I just want to be able to give him the life I’m giving him now. It’s nothing crazy. I just can’t believe we have to be going through this,” said Billie Moyer, who’s worked for the state for 25 years.
She said her father was an employee too at one point and tearfully recalled her family’s concerns over privatization over the years.
Moyer said, “All these people, all in their suits, they all have their careers and their lives. And, they want to take ours. And, I don’t get it.”
Rep. Delozier responded, “There’s a lot of people who want to make sure they have an easy transition, they have opportunities…I think there’s a lot of willingness to make sure that those that have the training and have the opportunity get the first shot at it.”